Musings on the worlds of aviation, military and international affairs.
With reviews of books that cover these topics
Concorde - A Designer’s Life
Ted Talbot was an aircraft designer for Bristol at Filton for almost all his career. The apogee of this career was, understandably, his work on Concorde. A specialist in propulsion and intake design, he would have the reader believe that this element was the crux of Concorde’s success, and certainly its main competitive advantage against its rivals (imitators?) from Boeing and the Soviet Union. British readers will share in his delight as periodically he makes a sly dig at the design teams of those two manufacturing teams, who were left floundering in Concorde’s Mach 2 wake.
Unlike many amateur autobiographers, the anecdotes from his personal life are almost always interesting and amusing. Talbot is skilful at melding the description of his working career with his personal life (which seems at times to have been quite eventful); he has a keen eye for the ironic, and a dry style that elevates this book above much of its ilk. If I say he had a photo of Sophia Loren on his works ID for three years, you can gain some measure of the man!
Talbot is clearly a bit of a polymath, with narrow boat construction (but possibly not skippering) and rally driving amongst his other talents. A private pilot too, he relates an amusing tale of a nervous passenger in his Auster. Like anyone who has been through the joys and trials of paternity, I laughed too at the story of his son turning a Morgan engine block into a sand-filled toy. Much of Concorde’s development flying was carried out from Morocco (clear skies, no NIMBYs etc), and the tribulations of the BAC crew out there should also cause merriment.
There was inevitably much toing and froing of the design teams at BAC and Aerospatiale between their respective offices, and much of the book is taken up with the hazards of these journeys, and the difficult nature of many of the (collegiate) design decisions. Given it was more or less designed by a committee, it is a minor miracle (and certainly a tribute to men such as Talbot) that it did not end up looking like a proverbial camel! The travel budget must have been immense (and no doubt still is within EADS).Talbot does not explore the issue, but one cannot help but wonder whether Concorde would not have appeared sooner, and more cheaply, had it been a 100% British project.
The timeline of the book jumps around a little, and it is in the rear half that we learn of his RAF career post-war. The highlight of this is when he is stuck up the tailpipe of a Meteor’s engine, when some muppet of a colleague in the cockpit decides to light it up.
Students of US air power will be interested to learn of the B1’s failure to achieve its designed speeds, and that its performance was way behind that of Concorde. Talbot is amongst the legion of aircraft industry professionals who lament that the technological advance of the TSR2 was never exploited.
Overall a deftly written volume that manages to enlighten and entertain.
The Journey to Mach 2
The History Press, 2013
ISBN 9780 752 489285